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Should the 22nd Amendment Be Repealed?

Aired May 30, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER (voice-over): CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE, it was good enough for FDR, so why not for Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton?


ANNOUNCER: Should presidents be term un-limited?

Plus, presidential peacemaking in the Middle East, and maybe even France.

Today, on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

As you Constitutional scholars no doubt know, it is the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits the American people from electing a president for more than two terms.

But with our economy in the tank and our foreign policy under fire, millions of Americans everywhere, where, maybe at least a few, anyway, are begging for the return of President Bill Clinton.

We will debate presidential term limits in just a moment, but first let's begin with the best political briefing in television, the "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

Less than an hour ago, President Bush and Air Force One, where the French toast is called freedom toast, landed in Poland to begin a six-nation tour. Mr. Bush said he is, quote, "disappointed," unquote, in the government in Paris. He said he has no problem with the Parisites themselves.

But since Spain supported Mr. Bush's war, he's a lot more pleased with the Spainiacs. Mr. Bush will also visit Russia to see President Vladimir Putin, whom Mr. Bush has nicknamed Pooty-Poot, that part I didn't make up. President Putin, of course, opposed the war in Iraq as well and is providing Iran with a nuclear facility.

Why then is our president sucking up to Putin and yet bashing the French? Perhaps because the president really, really likes Russian dressing and can't think of another name for it. It's an incoherent foreign policy.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: It's an incoherent comment you just made.

But I'll tell you this, Paul, you know, as a matter fact, usually you have some relation to accuracy.

He's not bashing the French. He had a very good interview with French television, said he'd like to make up, he'd like to establish relations with France again, back as they were.

And I'm going to get sick and tired of you bashing the president of the United States. When he leads this country, you should be giving your support and prayers, just as I did whenever President Clinton was involved.

BEGALA: I give him my prayers, but he's acting like a petulant frat boy. He needs to deal with other heads of state like an adult.

NOVAK: Well, he is. You're the one who's not acting like an adult.

BEGALA: I'm not the president.

NOVAK: You sure aren't, thank God.

A woman named Anne Erickson who runs an organization called the Greater Upstate Law Project said this of her state's junior U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton: quote, "I can personally say that it is pretty disappointing to watch her stances on the issues," end quote.

No, Ms. Erickson is not a conservative. She's a liberal who finds Hillary, would you believe it, too conservative. This is found in a front page "New York Times" report today that says Senator Clinton, quote, "is suddenly facing mounting criticism from an unlikely quarter, liberals," end quote.

Is she getting ready to run for president in the future? What else?

BEGALA: Well, certainly not this year. She's being a good senator. She's being Hillary.

You know, you can go look in Sid Blumenthal's new book, "The Clinton Wars." Hillary was the original new Democrat with her husband. She worked with Tony Blair on the Third Way, a way to move away from the outdated, failed policies of the far left and the far right. She's a centerist, she always has been. It's just the ultra- right wingers that hate her so much that make her look more liberal.

NOVAK: The point is, like her husband, she doesn't believe in anything. She'll do whatever she has to do for politics.

But I'll tell you something, Paul, you can make me do a lot of things. You can't make me read Sidney Blumenthal's 800-page book.

BEGALA: You would learn a lot if you did, and Hillary, like her husband, does believe in a lot, like in our country and making it great, as he did when he was our president.

Well, the top U.S. Marine general in Iraq said today that his searches have found no weapons of mass destruction.

Quote, "Believe me, it's not for lack of trying," unquote, said Lieutenant General James Conway. Continuing the quote from General Conway, quote, "we've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there," unquote.

One hundred seventy American heroes gave their lives for the noblest purpose of all, for their country. Our president said that Saddam Hussein threatened us with thousands of tons of chemicals weapons, thousands of liters of anthrax and a nuclear weapons program. All of that now appears to be false. None of it appears to have been true.

So how can we tell when President George W. Bush is fibbing? Simple. Read his lips.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, every time -- every time you -- every time you bring up the Iraq War, the aftermath, you always mention those brave Americans who died. I'm really getting sick of it.

You know, this is not a political campaign. You've said it I think everything I've been on the show with you, you've said. Can't you lay off that, because I think to make a political statement and bring up those dead heroes is indecent.

BEGALA: It's not a political statement. To forget them is indecent. They laid down their life for me and for every other American.


BEGALA: I owe them my best effort to try to find out what happened.

NOVAK: Talk about Affirmative Action. The Democratic National Committee was getting ready to lay off 10 staffers for economy reasons. And guess what? They are all black.

Donna Brazile, the African-American Democrat who was Al Gore's campaign manager and frequently appears on this program was read the list by the Associated Press. Donna said, "Uh oh, they're all black. I went through the roof." She immediately called Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who, Brazile says, assured her they would not be fired. It's a good thing they weren't white, or they'd be out on the street. But really, does it matter what color they are?

BEGALA: This is the ultra-definition of a slow news day, I guess, Bob. If the Democratic Party, some internal bureaucrat there, was looking for ways to save money, God bless Donna Brazile for stopping it. God bless Terry McAuliffe.

You know, but that is hardly. You know, I'm not worried about whether we lose 10 Democrats from the staff of the DNC. I'd rather see 10 Republican senators get beat so we can run this country the way it ought to be run.

NOVAK: Terry McAuliffe says we're going to keep them because they're black. If they were white, we'd fire them. Are you cool with that?

BEGALA: He didn't say that at all. He said...


BEGALA: Who gives a damn who's on the staff of the Democratic National -- I'm sorry to use foul language, here, guys.

NOVAK: Donna Brazile said she went through the roof because they were black.

BEGALA: She works there, and God bless her for catching a mistake.

NOVAK: Bill Clinton is so desperate for something to do, he's hoping we will actually amend the Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, to give him another shot at the White House.

Bill, it will never happen.

But next in the CROSSFIRE, on "RapidFire," we'll debate presidential terms anyway.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

More than a half a century ago, a bunch of Republican sore losers who didn't want another FDR amended our Constitution to limit future presidents to just two terms. Their descendants lived to regret it when Republican President Ronald Reagan wanted to but couldn't run in 1988. The whole country, of course, may live to regret the fact that President Clinton now is not around to keep the economy growing and protect our budget surplus and to save social security.

We can debate all of that with two terrific guests, radio talk show host Armstrong Williams and Democratic strategist and former Clinton official Lynn Cutler.

NOVAK: Lynn Cutler, let me set the stage with the dog days in Washington, Congress is out of session. Bill Clinton is bored. Nobody is paying any attention to him. He wishes he were back in the White House. It isn't fun not to be in the White House, so he brings up this thing that nobody's been talking about, the two-term limitation.

But in his head is the idea somehow or another, he is gone going to inflict another four years on the president. Do you want him back in the White House?

LYNN CUTLER, FMR. CLINTON STAFF MEMBER: He is -- that is not what he's doing at all. He's not running. He's not thinking about running.

He brought it up -- you know, our president has this great intellectual curiosity about lots of things.

NOVAK: Who is our president? I thought Bush was our president.

CUTLER: Currently.

BEGALA: President Bush has intellectual curiosity as well, just a lot more of it, I think.

CUTLER: And it was a comment that he made. He is definitely not running. I confirmed that today with the office. And you don't have to be worried to death.

But just think if he were here, Bob. Just think if he were here. We wouldn't be throwing kids out of afterschool programs. We might be funding the COPS program so that our crime rates could stay down. We might not have passed a tax bill where children of low income and working families somehow in the dead of night were pulled out of the bill. Wouldn't that be awful?

BEGALA: I'm sorry -- let me -- we'll get to President Clinton and former President Reagan as well, and some others in a moment.

But, philosophically, one of the things -- not one of the things, the thing I love best about our Constitution, and both the right and the left usually agrees on this, is that it limits our government.

The 22nd Amendment is out of step with the rest of the Constitution. It doesn't limit our government. It limits we the people. It says we can't have the president we choose. Isn't that out of step with the rest of our Constitution. Shouldn't we remove it?


I certainly don't believe that this is former President Clinton's altruism to the Western world. It's self-aggrandizement.

It's about -- in fact, President Clinton did not start this discussion about repealing the 22nd Amendment. It started in 2000. And guess when in 2000. In December 2000, when he realized that his vice president lost the election.

But you know what, it's not even, for many of us, about the issues. It's about somebody accumulating this kind of power for a long time. I would not want it if the current president, George Bush, wanted it. You don't want that kind of person to accumulate that kind of power over 16 years.

BEGALA: So you don't trust the people? Fundamentally, you don't trust citizens.


BEGALA: If we the people wanted Ronald Reagan for a third term in 1980, I'd say God bless them.

WILLIAMS: I think two terms is enough for any president. I think we should celebrate the genius of America by having more people run for that office. Yes.

NOVAK: Lynn Cutler, did you ever read this book? This is "FDR's Last Year," by Jim Bishop, published in 1974. Jim Bishop was a great reporter.

CUTLER: He was a great reporter. I did not read it.

NOVAK: You ought to, and I'll tell you why. Because it tells how President Roosevelt had a heart attack and stroke and it was covered up by the White House. Never told the people. He was reelected. He was an invalid. He went Yalta, gave away Eastern Europe to the Communist and was a disgrace in his fourth term. If they had a two term limitation, we wouldn't have that disgraceful appearance -- performance. Don't you think we should have had a two term limit then?

CUTLER: Bob, I don't know what in the world you're talking about.

I -- it was pretty clear that FDR was reelected because he rose from his wheelchair to lift -- he rose from his wheelchair to lift a nation from its knees.

NOVAK: I'm talking about his third term and fourth term. He was a sick man, wasn't he?

CUTLER: But he was reelected by the American people. This is a democracy.


NOVAK: They shouldn't have been permitted to do it.

CUTLER: Oh, well, now...

NOVAK: Don't we have limits on age, residence, we have limits on all kinds of things.

CUTLER: And now we have the crux of this issue.

I don't like term limits anywhere on the ballot and...

NOVAK: I love them.

CUTLER: I just yesterday was in Iowa. I was having coffee with the county attorney in Polk (ph) County, John Sacrcone (ph), who I'm sure you've met in your many visits to Iowa. And he was talking to me about the prosecutors who are term-limited in California and other states, two terms.

They've put a -- good? They've put together teams, they're fighting crime, they're taking on these criminals in their communities. Two terms, they're out. You have to start all over again. Where's the rationale in that?

WILLIAMS: I'd like to make a point.

I think, obviously, the times we're in dictate many things. Unless we're in a major war, like the first two major world wars we've had, and then the issue becomes speed and dispatch and all those other things that are urgent in that matter, that is the only time that I think we should ever consider that a president serve longer than two terms, if he's in office at the time. That is the only exception.

BEGALA: Even that, you'd have to change the 22nd Amendment.

We asked -- CNN and "USA Today" asked the American people recently to rate presidents in American history. I want to show where they rate -- the top five, anyway.

President Abraham Lincoln, No. 1. President John F. Kennedy, No. 2. A tie for third place between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the current president, and in fourth, really fifth, Ronald Reagan.

CUTLER: You (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this vote, did you?

BEGALA: I think your real fear here -- the real fear here, and Mr. Novak's real fear is that, yes, if we didn't have the anti-people amendment to the Constitution, Bill Clinton would still be president today, and that's what has you worried, isn't it.

WILLIAMS: You know what is remarkable?

NOVAK: I'm very worried.

WILLIAMS: You know, what is remarkable about that poll? I don't think even think Bush should be considered. He's been in office two and a half years. Clinton has been in office eight years.

NOVAK: What about George Washington?

WILLIAMS: And they're matching Bush with Clinton? I think that's a tribute to Bus, not to Clinton.


BEGALA: But what's your point though? What point are you trying to make?

BEGALA: If the Constitutional amendment that you Republicans passed weren't in there, Clinton would have beat him like a bad piece of meat.

WILLIAMS: In your opinion.

NOVAK: Lynn Cutler...

CUTLER: Yes -- Bob.

NOVAK: Can I ask you a question? Do you think -- we know that Eisenhower would have been elected to a third term. He was a very old man, slowing down. Reagan would have been elected to a third term. It was already at the beginning of disease was setting in with him.

Do you think it would have been a good idea to have those two conservative Republicans elected to a third term? Because they would have been without that amendment.

CUTLER: I stand where I stood before. I do not believe in term limits. I think that the American people could make that decision for themselves. And if there is a cover-up about somebody's health, about somebody's capacity to serve, then that's the fault of you guys, the media.


BEGALA: ... on election day in 1980. he would have lost the election if he was on the ballot.

NOVAK: Let me ask you -- let me ask you the question. Ronald Reagan and Eisenhower would have been reelected. Do you think that would have been a good idea -- that's the question -- to have them serve another term? Yes or no.

CUTLER: I have no way of judging that. You know, I'm not ducking you. I'm just telling you the American people have term limits. It's called the ballot box.

NOVAK: We've got to take a break.

After a quick break and the news headlines, it's "RapidFire," where we term limit our guests -- answers that is, so we can get in more questions. And later, we'll ask the audience whether they think two terms are enough for any occupant of the White House.


NOVAK: It's time for "RapidFire," the fastest question and answer session in television.

We're talking about presidential term limits with former Clinton administration official Lynn Cutler and the famous radio talk show host, Armstrong Williams -- Paul.

BEGALA: Armstrong, in the beginning of our program you said this is a self-aggrandizing move by Bill Clinton. Was it a self- aggrandizing move by Ronald Reagan in 1987 when he called for a repeal of the 22nd Amendment.

WILLIAMS: I disagree with him. It's across the board. There should be -- there should be term limits. Eight years is enough for any person. Then we change horses again and then let the people decide.

NOVAK: Lynn, isn't it good enough to get Bill Clinton back in the White House as first husband? Does he have to be president again?

CUTLER: Well, I'd drink to that.

BEGALA: Armstrong, only three men have served two terms even since this 22nd Amendment was passed. Isn't it unnecessary?

WILLIAMS; It is necessary. It's one of the things that makes America great. No one man can be so accustomed to that office where he really believes he's at home.

Sometimes power can corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and we don't need that. America works. Let's leave it like it is. Let's respect the 22nd Amendment.

NOVAK: Do you think Bill Clinton is ashamed at how little he accomplished in eight years, that he thinks if he's given another four years, he might get something done? Is that it?

CUTLER: I don't think he's a bit ashamed nor should he be. As I said, we'd be very happy to have him back and have kids in the kinds of programs they need and be taking care of people as we should.


BEGALA: Armstrong, in the 30 seconds left -- Great Britain has no term limits. How has it hurt Great Britain?

WILLIAMS: You know, it seems to work for Great Britain, but they're not America. We're the lone superpower in the world and our standards must be above everybody else's, and that's why we will remain the superpower that we are.

NOVAK: Lynn, would you stop term limits for governors across the country?

CUTLER: Yes. I hate term limits.

BEGALA: Would you -- would you have them for governors all across the country?

WILLIAMS: No, I would not.

BEGALA: Governors are different.

Armstrong Williams, radio talk show host, thank you for a terrific debate. Lynn Cutler, my pal from the Clinton White House, thank you very much, both.

And we've got an audience question coming up -- thank you, Armstrong.

Our audience is going to have to weigh in now. You get to make the final decision.

Our studio audience, vote on this question, should presidents be allowed more than two terms? Press one for yes, press two for no.

We'll have the answer for you in our studio and everybody at home, after the break. And then, in "Fireback," one of our viewers is hoping President Bush will break another campaign promise. I'll let you know what it is when we come back.


NOVAK: Time for "Fireback."

We asked the studio audience whether presidents should be permitted more than two terms.

Republicans say 82 percent no, 18 percent yes. Democrats, the other way around. Only 39 percent no, 61 percent yes. More than two terms for democrats.

Our first e-mail is from Glen, of Akron, Ohio, who writes: "22nd Amendment work around, Bob Hope for president and Bill Clinton for vice president. Great honor for a deserving man who can then resign for health reasons and get a real president back into the White House.

Glen, like most Democrats, you've got it all wrong. Under the 22nd Amendment, he can't run for vice president either.

BEGALA: Bob is right, but it's an interesting and novel approach from Glen.

Joe Flanders in Oxford, Maine, writes: "You right wingers like presidential term limits because it limits the people's ability to govern themselves. You no doubt would prefer to return to your good old days when only wealthy white men could vote."

NOVAK: Well, I think that there is a question for only men being able to vote, but I wouldn't limit it to wealthy white men. I'm just kidding. Just kidding!

BEGALA: Let the record show that was Mr. Novak. Women, you can your e-mails to Bob.

NOVAK: Mike Logan, of Watertown, New York says: "Paul, your pal Clinton would need more than a reformation of the 22nd Amendment. He would also need a reformation of the 8th Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment."

Way to go, Mike.

BEGALA: Well, that's what I'm suffering under our current president, but good shot, Mike. I like your humor.

Nidian Kincaid in Virginia Beach, Virginia, writes: "Novak," Mr. Novak, I'm sure, "Mr. Novak, how can I get a rich fat cat like you to understand the sorrows of the working man in this country? I mean, I don't deserve the money anyway. I don't pay taxes, according to you. Looks like Bush broke yet another promise to me. Maybe he should make a promise to be reelected. Now there's a promise I'd love to see broken"

NOVAK: Nidian, baby, if you don't pay taxes, you shouldn't get a tax cut.

BEGALA: He does pay taxes, but he got shafted by Bush.

NOVAK: Question out there.

BEGALA: Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Tim O'Connor (ph), I'm from Indiana.

What more do you think Clinton could accomplish in office? Is he so -- is his ego so hungry that he needs the attention?

NOVAK: Absolutely. He is a sociopathic, egotistical egomaniac and he needs four more years in the White House. Don't you have any sympathy for him.

BEGALA: Like the whole reason we're doing this show is that every time he does anything, the media covers it. He doesn't need the attention. He loves his country, he sees the work of eight years being flushed down the drain by George W. Bush and his incompetent presidency and he wants to do something to save our country, and I say God bless Bill Clinton. Bring him back. Come back, Mr. President, we need you.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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